Steinbrück compares Switzerland to Burkina Faso in tax row

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück made a new jibe on Tuesday against Switzerland and other European finance centres, likening them to the poor African nation of Burkina Faso, in a row over tax havens.

Steinbrück compares Switzerland to Burkina Faso in tax row
Steinbrück keeping his EU colleagues amused. Photo: DPA

Steinbrück told journalists in Brussels that he regretted that Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Austria had not bothered to attend an international conference on tax havens in Paris last October.

“Of course, I am going to invite them for a follow-up conference in June in Berlin,” he said, adding ironically: “Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Ouagadougou,” the capital of Burkina Faso.

Steinbrück has repeatedly ruffled feathers in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria as he has spearheaded a campaign along with France to crackdown on countries that do not cooperate with foreign tax authorities.

His drive nearly triggered a major diplomatic standoff with Switzerland earlier this year when he used a Wild West analogy interpreted in the country as likening the Swiss to “Indians.” This led to one Swiss MP saying that Steinbrueck “reminds me of the old generation of Germans, who 60 years ago went through the streets with leather coats, boots and armbands,” a Nazi analogy that caused outrage in Germany.

However, the international push to crack down on perceived tax havens has paid off as the four countries have agreed to cooperate with foreign tax authorities, in effect limiting their banking secrecy rules.

Steinbrück refused to apologise for lobbying for Luxembourg to be included on an international list of tax havens, which left the fellow EU country feeling betrayed by its bigger neighbour.

“We have nothing to excuse,” Steinbrück said. “The German taxman is losing money and honest taxpayers are left looking stupid.”

Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, ran to the defence of Luxembourg along with Austria and Belgian, slamming their inclusion on the list under pressure from Germany and France.

“Personally, I don’t think that this list should have been published,” he said, adding that “certain EU countries should not be there” because they had shown a willingness to cooperate on tax fraud.

Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg are the only EU countries that have bank secrecy rules, although they have recently promised to cooperate with foreign tax authorities.


101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

A 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard on Monday once again denied being complicit in war crimes during the Holocaust as his trial drew to a close in Germany.

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

Josef Schütz, the oldest person so far to face trial over Nazi crimes during World War II, is accused of involvement in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, has pleaded innocent throughout the trial, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said again at the close of the proceedings, his voice wavering.

Dressed in a grey shirt and pyjama bottoms and sitting in a wheelchair, Schütz insisted he had had nothing to do with the atrocities and was “telling the truth”.

READ ALSO: Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court in Germany

Prosecutors say he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the crimes as a guard at the camp and are seeking to punish him with five years behind bars.

But Schütz’s lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, said that since there were no photographs of him wearing an SS uniform, the case was based on “hints” of his possible involvement.

“As early as 1973, investigators had information about him but did not pursue him. At the time, witnesses could have been heard but now they are all dead or no longer able to speak,” Waterkamp said.

Former Nazi guard

The 101-year-old former Nazi guard covers his face at the Neuruppin courthouse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

It would be a mistake for the court to try to “make up for the mistakes of a previous generation of judges”, the lawyer said.

Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, told AFP Schuetz “does not want to remember”, calling it “a form of defence”.

The trial was not just about “putting a centenarian in prison”, he said. It had also produced evidence that Sachsenhausen was an “experimental extermination camp”.

“All the cruellest methods were invented there and then exported,” Grumbach said.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor